GLSP Director Reflects on Big Year

This commentary was originally published in the Daily Report on Oct., 23, 2015.

scales empty courtroom

Courtesy of the Daily Report.

In Service: Georgia Legal Services Director Reflects on Big Year

So many of our clients’ stories start with struggle and result in triumph, through their own persistence and a lawyer’s help at the right moment.

One senior citizen finally decided that 30 years of abuse was enough. Once she made that decision, with our help she was able to leave her husband and find peace and safety. But the decision to make the journey was hers.

Or the high school student near graduation with options for college—threatened with harsh discipline for a minor act for which others were not punished. With our help he was able to graduate.


Read the full article here.

Phyllis Holmen is the executive director of the Georgia Legal Services Program.

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A letter from a GLSP client’s son

A letter from a client’s son reminds us at GLSP of the importance of this work.

August 26, 2015

To Whom it May Concern,

This letter is to serve as a testament and record of outstanding work by [GLSP attorney], Attorney for Georgia Legal Services on behalf of my mother, [name kept confidential] and her family.

In all work, communication, and outcome [GLSP attorney] was nothing short of extraordinary.

In order to qualify for a government program, one must have the Wisdom of Solomon and the engagement of a Wall Street Banker. [GLSP attorney] navigated the ways and means of my mother’s needs with aplomb, energy, and a delightful sense of charm. She was at all times a complete professional, yet my family always felt that she treated individuals as people, not rotating digits.

That [GLSP attorney]’s work was completely successful is beyond our dreams, and yet that is exactly what this outstanding attorney accomplished. My dear mother is in a nursing home under the care of the Medicaid program, and she is finally receiving the immediate care an elderly woman with health problems should receive.

We are grateful to Georgia Legal Services, and in particular, to [GLSP attorney] for providing sterling assistance in a difficult field.

You have our profound thanks.

Most Sincerely,

[Son of client kept confidential]

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GLSP saves patient from eviction from nursing home

Portrait of the old woman at a nursing home.

GLSP saves nursing home patient from eviction after son takes money needed to pay her bills

Sandra Bartlett was transferred to a nursing home when she could no longer live at home. Her son, who was on all her accounts at the bank, liquidated all her Certificates of Deposit totaling more than $80,000 and transferred the money to his personal bank account without his mother’s knowledge and after he had been told that money was needed to pay her nursing home bill. He also diverted almost all Mrs. Bartlett’s monthly income to his own use and lived rent free in her home. He failed or refused to apply for Medicaid for his mother. Finally, when an application was finally submitted for her, he admitted to the caseworker that he had taken all her money. The nursing home filed papers to discharge Mrs. Bartlett for failure to pay her bill. The state nursing home ombudsman referred this case to GLSP. At this point, Mrs. Bartlett’s other son became involved. GLSP was able to have the second son become Mrs. Bartlett’s agent under a power of attorney. GLSP also appealed the discharge and worked through another Medicaid application, through which Mrs. Bartlett was qualified for nursing home Medicaid. The nursing home agreed to drop the discharge and the client was able to stay in a safe environment.

The client’s name has been changed to protect her confidentiality


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Child with cancer gets education plan with GLSP’s help

Girl with cancerMrs. Valasquez contacted Georgia Legal Services Program because she was worried about her 13-year-old daughter, a middle-schooler who had been diagnosed with leukemia. The daughter, Amada, was being bullied at school and on the school bus. Children were, among other things, pulling off her hat and laughing at her head, which was bald due to chemotherapy. A boy was harassing her daily on the bus. Amada was also being left sitting in an office during physical education, rather than being given access to a computer or other activity she could participate in. Because she was often ill or hospitalized, she also needed extra help with her academics and extra time to complete assignments. Although Mrs. Valasquez had spoken with school officials, she did not feel her concerns were being heard. She felt that Amada, because of her illness, was not getting the education she had a right to.

GLSP took her case and contacted the middle school principal, who said that a special education plan had been in place for Amada in elementary school, but a new one for middle school had not been developed. GLSP lawyers worked with the school and brought in an education specialist from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where Amada was being treated for her illness. After several months of negotiation, an individual education plan (IEP) was formulated that gave Amada extra time to complete assignments, extra time to get to classes, specific help with her school work and time to rest and drink water during the day. She was also given permission to wear a hat to school to cover her bald head. School officials also addressed the bullying and helped make Amada’s time in school safer and more productive.

GLSP’s intervention in the case helped make school officials more reliably attentive to Amada’s needs. She and her mother were satisfied with the new education plan.  Amada is now making good progress in school.

The clients’ names have been changed to protect their confidentiality.

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Macon GLSP helps Indiana man get $59,000 in back SS benefits

On September 12, 2013, Mr. D arrived in Macon from Indianapolis, Indiana, by bus looking for a policeman to take him to Milledgeville to turn himself in to the Baldwin County Sheriff Department.  Mr. D’s Social Security and SSI benefits had been terminated due to an outstanding warrant for violation of probation due to a traffic ticket. Until his benefits were stopped, Mr. D had not been aware of having been placed on probation. He came to Georgia believing he would have to serve time in jail to get his income back.  Instead, with help from Georgia Legal Services, he went home with $59,000 in back benefits.

Mr. D is a member of a large group of Social Security beneficiaries who have lost benefits over the past few years because the Social Security Administration  had been illegally terminating or denying benefits to persons it believed to be “fleeing felons.”   These individuals were alleged to have outstanding warrants against them for parole or probation violations.  In most cases, they were never notified why their benefits had been stopped.   Moreover,  many of those whose benefits were stopped were not in fact the correct individuals, due to similar names, or who, in fact, had no outstanding cases against them. Many like Mr. D, had only a minor charge of which they were not aware or which had been long ago dismissed by law enforcement officials. Many were in nursing homes or were disabled, and far from “fleeing.”   A nationwide class action lawsuit, styled Clark v. Astrue, won a court ruling that back benefits had to be paid to people who were unfairly denied them. GLSP has helped hundreds of Georgians  with cases similar to Mr. D’s, most of whom were elderly and had no idea why their benefits had been stopped.

After being hit in the head in 2004, Mr. D. had applied for and was awarded Social Security and SSI benefits. He was notified by the Social Security Administration in January 2010, that his benefits were being terminated and should have been terminated as of September 2009 due to the existence of the outstanding probation warrant in Baldwin County.  The probation arose from an incident in 2009 when Mr. D was returning home from Washington County where he had visited his sister. Driving through Baldwin County, he was stopped by the Sheriff’s Department for a traffic violation. He returned home to Indiana, failed to appear for his court hearing and, without his knowledge, was placed on probation for the traffic violation.

After his benefits were stopped, Mr. D believed he needed a criminal attorney to resolve the warrant issue, he sought the assistance of two criminal attorneys in Indiana.  The attorneys made a couple of telephone calls to the Probation Office in Milledgeville only to inform him that he did have an outstanding warrant out for his arrest.  They provided him no assistance with SSA.  Mr. D. stated he had never heard of Legal Aid.

As a result of losing his benefits Mr. D. and his wife became homeless.  His wife got a job as a waitress and they moved into various motels.  Believing that it was the only way he could get his benefits restarted, Mr. D. Came to Macon to turn himself in to authorities to serve whatever time he had to serve.

After getting off the bus in Macon, he asked four people for directions to the police department. All four people gave him the wrong directions.  He was wandering around the courthouse and ran into Phil Bond, Managing Attorney, Macon Office of Georgia Legal Services.  Mr. D. explained his situation to Mr. Bond not knowing who Mr. Bond was or where he worked.  Mr. Bond told Mr. D. that GLSP could help him and brought him to paralegal Leroy White to assist him.

Mr. White spoke with Rachael Henderson, GLSP Social Security Specialist and explained the situation to her.  Ms. Henderson has worked on the Clark v. Astrue case since it began and had one of the earliest clients to receive back benefits. She advised Mr. White to take Mr. D. to the Macon SSA and explain that he was a class member of Clark v. Astrue which Mr. White did.

The SSA representative agreed that Mr. D. was a Clark member and informed Mr. D. that  he had Social Security benefits of $59,860.00 available to him due to the Clark case.  Mr. D.’s Case was reopened, and he was told that he would have to go to his local SSA to update his information so the lump sum benefits could be released to him.

Mr. White explained that Mr. D. had no money to return home and SSA agreed to cut him a check for one month of his benefit of $731.00.  Attorney Amanda Smith took Mr. D. to her bank where he was able to cash the check. Mr. White took Mr. D. To the bus station to buy a ticket home and then took him to the motel across the street from the bus station. Mr. White spoke with Mr. D’s wife on September 16 and she informed him that he was at the local SSA office updating his information so the lump sum benefits could be issued to him.

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Disabled daughter able to go home “to Mama’s house”


Ms. Fisher was 40 years old living in a nursing home after having suffered a severe brain injury giving birth to her son a few years earlier. She was unable to speak clearly or walk, although she was responsive to visitors. Her mother, Mrs. Worth, was raising her daughter’s older son and wanted her daughter to come home where she could care for her, as well. She needed full-time nursing help to make that possible but couldn’t afford it.  She applied to the state Department of Community Health’s Independent Care Waiver Program for help, but her application was denied because a nurse who evaluated Ms. Fisher said she was not mentally able to make decisions about her care and could not be cared for at home. Mrs. Worth came to GLSP for help. She said her daughter could communicate enough to indicate that she wanted to come home and that she felt confident that with the help of nurses, she could care for her daughter.

GLSP attorney Mary Irene Dickerson took the case and went to see Ms. Fisher at the nursing home. She found that Ms. Fisher could indicate answers to questions by nodding or shaking her head and pointing to things. She could propel her own wheelchair, speak a few words and even sign her own name. At one point, Ms. Fisher even said, haltingly, “Wanna go home.”

Ms. Dickerson convinced DCH to reevaluate Ms. Fisher and attended the reevaluation, which was carried out by the same nurse. At one point, the nurse read a question to Ms. Fisher about what she would do in case of an emergency involving smoke in the home. After struggling to communicate, Ms. Dickerson wrote, “Finally, client got the pen and paper and very laboriously wrote ‘call 911.’ It was wonderful. Client also responded to other questions about wanting to go to ‘mama’s house’ and ‘right now’ and that she was in Georgia.” The nurse recommended acceptance into the waiver program and said Ms. Fisher could go home as soon as arrangements could be made for caregivers. (The client’s name has been changed to protect her confidentiality.)

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GLSP helps child go to school, stops school system from violating law

Twelve-year-old Barry Sanchez came to Georgia from Florida to be with his mother who had moved several months before. When Mrs. Sanchez tried to enroll her son in the school system in middle Georgia where they lived, school officials refused to admit the child because his mother’s name was not on the child’s Florida birth certificate. Mrs. Sanchez contacted GLSP for help. Lawyer Ira Foster, who specializes in education issues, noted that Georgia law does not require that a guardian’s name be on the birth certificate for admission to school if that person has custody of the child. He notified school officials that they were violating Georgia law to keep the child out of school. Barry was admitted into school on October 30, 2012, having missed school for two months because of this issue. The school district would have continued to violate Georgia law if Georgia Legal Services had not stepped in.

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GLSP helps injured employee get unemployment benefits, Christmas gifts

Ms. Baring is a single mother who was crushed by a forklift while working for a hardware retailer. She suffered severe injuries and was away from work for months while her Worker’s Compensation case was being processed. After she healed, she would have been able to return to work on a “light duty” assignment, rather than the heavy lifting she had been doing before the accident. However, she was told that to close her Worker’s Comp case and receive the back payment she was owed, she must sign a resignation letter stating she was resigning for “personal reasons.” When she went to apply for unemployment benefits, she was denied because the Department of Labor found she had quit her job voluntarily. She came to GLSP for help. Attorney Mike Tafelski took the case and was able to get her unemployment benefits, including back payments from when she originally applied.  The case was in progress around Christmastime and Ms. Baring had no income. Mr. Tafelski helped her obtain Christmas gifts for her child.

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Loan company garnishes woman’s pay card. GLSP gets her money back.

Ms. Suffolk had taken out a small loan with a large finance company and was having trouble paying it back. She reached a settlement with the company that she would pay the loan, $425, over  time and had paid $250 back when she again had trouble making the payments because she also has $10,000 in medical bills and other debts. She worked at a large retailer, making $9.55 an hour, and her wages were put on a card, similar to a debit card. The finance company filed a garnishment against her without reporting to the court that she had already paid back more than half the loan. A freeze was put on her wage card so she could not get at any of her money, effectively allowing the finance company to take 100 percent of her pay. Ms. Suffolk came to GLSP for help. Our attorney investigated and found that the amount stated on the garnishment was dramatically inflated above what was actually owed. GLSP was able to negotiate dismissal of the garnishments, releasing all funds to Ms. Suffolk. The finance company also agreed to file a satisfaction of judgment for the underlying debt so that it could no longer pursue any future judgments. So Ms. Suffolk was able to recover $300 and avoid further payments of $175.

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GLSP lawyer helps woman with TPO and child support

Mrs. Parker made her unemployed husband leave home after he became violent with her, causing her young sons to break into the room to protect her. He left and stayed away for six months, never trying to see their children or communicate with his wife.

But then neighbors began to text her that he was hanging around on Mrs. Parker’s porch at night and sitting in his car near the youngest son’s school bus stop during the day. Then he began showing up at Mrs. Parker’s place of work and trying to talk to her. She would get security to walk her to the car, but he would follow them insisting that she talk to him.

Mrs. Parker tried to get a divorce, pro se, but he wouldn’t sign all the papers, and the court rejected the case because the papers were incomplete.

Mrs. Parker made changes to her routine so he wouldn’t know where she was, but he kept showing up at her home. He once took the youngest son without asking her and tried to enroll him in school in another state. He had no address so he brought the boy back home, but kept insisting that Mrs. Parker talk to him. She called the police and offered to talk to him at the sheriff’s office or at a church, but he refused.

Her husband was getting much more aggressive, so she came to Georgia Legal Services Program for help.

A GLSP attorney in our Piedmont office took the case. She gathered evidence and spoke with witnesses and represented Mrs. Parker in court. The judge granted a 12-month protective order for her and her children and reopened the divorce case. GLSP is also working to get custody and child support for Mrs. Parker.

Mrs. Parker said GLSP’s help was invaluable to restoring safety to her life. Her attorney’s help showed her “that I wasn’t alone, someone was on my side and understood my situation and could help before it turned into a tragedy.”

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